Indigenous People in Climate Change- when tradition meets modern life

A visit to the Asia Indigenous People Pact (AIPP) booth in Green Zone led me to a series of immense thoughts on indigenous people in climate change. We were there to have a short Sumazau Dance practice with Winnie, a representative from JOAS. The dance performance was for Asia Day on the next day. JOAS stands for Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia, translated in English as The Indigenous People Network of Malaysia.

Compare to the indigenous people (IP) that I interacted with previously in Krau, Pahang; Winnie is different, as she has much more exposure to the modern world. She was such a pleasant lady, teaching us the Sumazau dance with such patience and joyfulness. After a few conversations and interactions with her, I came to realised that there is always one common in trait in all IP deep in their heart- which is their connection to the nature and their purest form of attitude towards life.

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IP are well known for their close to nature lifestyle. In climate change perspective, they are mostly one of the most vulnerable marginalised group. As most of them stays in remote areas- either in the forest, by the forest edge or near the forest, some even in the mountainous region; their lives are directly influenced by any climatic changes within the region.

Why? Well, for one, most IP do not get food from supermarkets or even wet markets. They gatherof plants, herbs and fruits, they fish, they hunt, they do some small scale planting, all for consumption and maybe for a bit of bartering or source of income. In the face of climate change, the most sensitive species will be most severely influenced, there those delicate fungi are gone, here some baby squirrels could not survive and there some beetles act all funny. You might think meh, two or three species were disturbed, so what? The forests have so much more but wait, do you not know that all species interact and rely on one another? They form a tightly knitted community and ecosystem where all species are either directly or indirectly related to each other. Changes in environment might perish a few species and the shake the ground of many other species. Without food, this might force the IP to shift away from their own villages as well as changing their lifestyle, which can be a threat to their cultures and social identities. Instability of food source, low ability to adapt changes and oppressed rights made them extremely vulnerable.

Researchers believe that some of the IP possess the traditional knowledge deemed essential to understand about our surrounding environment, which would be crucial to produce a comprehensive adaptive method that combines traditional knowledge with modern science. In the latest Paris Agreement, IP was recognized and acknowledged in the texts but it is under the non-legally binding preamble which shows no protection to this group of marginalized group which could be a key information provider in combating climate change.

I then recalled and flashed back all IP related events that I attended throughout COP21. From the side events in blue zone, country’s pavilions till the Global Landscape Forum; it seems that IP from the American continent (Canada, USA, Amazon and Brazil) were much more vocal and well represented in occasions like this. Asia’s IP are relatively quiet from my observation, especially those from South East Asia region.

I wonder was it because of lower media coverage? Or the lack of platforms to voice up?

I was buried in a thick hard clump of frustration thoughts (on the unjust treatment most IP had to bear) only to be levitated on Asia Day itself. The pavilions are filled with IP from numerous Asian regions showcasing  their traditional cultural performances. These nice people even prepared their traditional dishes as refreshment. I was deeply touched by all the efforts done by them. They traveled so far away from their hometown to Paris to  be part of this global event, all the while displaying good spirits of never stop fighting for their tribes. True, they might not have the capacity to understand nor participate in the negotiations, but at least they do whatever they could to show their eagerness in wanting  to be heard and they are concerned about global issues. With that said, I strongly believe that they deserve much more capacity building aids from their respective governments and international organisations.

Written by: Emily
Edited by: Wanji

 

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